Stress at work in your 20s and 30s can affect your health later

Researcher: Difference 'between 'very satisfied' and 'satisfied' has significant effects on your health'

Job satisfaction in your 20s and 30s can affect your mental health in your 40s, according to research presented this week at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. 

For the study, researchers from Ohio State University examined a national survey that launched in 1979 and tracked about 6,500 people. The Ohio State University researchers examined the job satisfaction trajectories for respondents between ages 25 and 39. After respondents turned 40, they reported on multiple health measures.


The researchers found that over the years:

  • About 45%reported being consistently less than "very satisfied" with their jobs;
  • 23% reported their job satisfaction decreasing through the years;
  • 17% reported their job satisfaction increasing through the years; and
  • 15% reported being consistently "very satisfied" with their jobs.

According to the researchers, respondents who had reported lower levels or decreasing levels of job satisfaction scored lower on mental health tests. In addition, they were more likely to be diagnosed with an emotional problem and reported higher levels of depression, sleep problems, and excessive worry. And while mental health discrepancies were more pronounced than physical health discrepancies, respondents with low or decreasing levels of job satisfaction also were more likely to report poorer overall health.

Study co-author Jonathan Dirlam pointed out that the study revealed that even modest dissatisfaction at work could lead to problems down the line. "The majority of people are either 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' with their job," he said. "But we find that even the subtle distinction between 'very satisfied' and 'satisfied' has significant effects on your health."

But there's a silver lining: Those who reported initially low job satisfaction but whose satisfaction increased through the years did not experience the same negative health consequences.

The findings are consistent with prior studies that show stress can have negative health effects, the researchers said. "Most people spend almost half of their waking life at work," Dirlam said. "It's important that you are able to find some joy during this time" (Eunjung Cha, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/23; Marcus, CBS, 8/23; Ohio State University release, 8/22). 

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